Cringe! We all know the feeling. Your shoulders tense, your stomach clenches, your face screws up, and you cover your eyes to make it go away.
Few emotions manifest in such a physical way. But what really is cringe? Other people make us cringe, of course, but why does cringing at ourselves feels worse? And could this uncomfortable feeling actually be good for us?
Just ask Taylor Swift. In May, when picking up an honorary doctorate from New York University, the singer made a speech for the graduating class of 2022 and used the opportunity to address this very issue.
“Learn to live alongside cringe,” the 32-year-old singer advised the hatted hordes. “No matter how hard you try to avoid being cringe, you will look back on your life and cringe retrospectively. Cringe is unavoidable over a lifetime.”
Turns out it’s not just TayTay’s songs that speak truth. Psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo talks us through the psychology of cringe – and how to work through the feeling so that it doesn’t limit you, but actually helps you know yourself better.
Why is cringe a natural feeling – and what causes it?
“Technically ‘cringe’ is not a clinical term,” says Dr Quinn-Cirillo – instead, it’s a word we recognise and use to describe the “physiological and emotional responses to awkward or embarrassing situations”.
What prompts the cringe can be internal or external, “from being embarrassed about your or another’s behaviour, being disgusted at something you have seen or heard, shame around past behaviour or appearance or a particular subject you are uncomfortable with such as intimacy or physical illness/injury.”
It’s actually normal for people’s emotional responses to manifest in physical ways – and in the case of cringe, there’s a particular reason it does.
“It is essentially ‘moving away’ from the topic or situation you are experiencing,” explains Dr Quinn-Cirillo. “In many situations we cannot physically actually move away or remove ourselves and the cringe descriptor is a good way of showing how we want to in our response!”
How can you tackled embarrassment in the moment?
The physiological and cognitive responses associated with embarrassment are linked to primeval functions in our body. “Our bodies produce adrenaline when …….